LINCOLNTON - Lincoln County's season ended here last Friday as perennial State contender Clinch County Panthers scored three second half touchdowns to secure a 27-7 victory.
The Red Devils finished the 2020 season with a 7-5 record and a good chance to be ranked in the final Class A Public Top Ten. The atmosphere around the football program improved significantly this year with the hiring of Lee Chomskis as Athletic Director and Head Football Coach. He and his staff have brought new energy to Lincoln County athletics. The future looks bright as the Devils approach their centennial season in 2022.
Keenon Lampkin finished his senior season with 1,045 yards passing. He completed 65 of 116 pass attempts with 11 touchdowns. He rushed 87 times for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior Tevin Gartrell led the rushing attack for the season with 923 yards on 145 carries with 12 touchdowns. Senior Colton Willis carried 89 times for 361 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Caleb Willis, in his first season playing football, scored six touchdowns on 35 receptions for 488 yards. He also proved to be a reliable punter and defensive standout.
Lampkin and fellow senior Johnny Wise have been chosen as defensive players for Georgia in the Battle Bowl to be played next month in Augusta.
Lampkin completed seven of 16 pass attempts for 143 yards. He led the rushers with 44 yards on six attempts with one TD. Colton Willis rushed 13 times for 39 yards. Franklin Brown was the leading receiver with three grabs for 77 yards.
The game started out rough for the Devils as the Panther's short opening kickoff was fumbled, but Caleb Willis recovered at the LC 43. Runs of six and four yards by Colton Willis earned a first down at the CC 46. Gartrell rushed for six, followed by half a dozen more by Colton Willis for a first at the CC 34. Gartrell broke loose for 21 yards to the 10, but a penalty for "helmet to helmet" contact presented the Devils with a 2nd-&-12 at the CC 36.
A good backfield block gave Lampkin enough time to find Wise open for a 29-yard gain to the CC 5. Colton Willis rushed for one, as did Gartrell on the next play. Colton Willis gained two, leaving the Devils a yard short and facing fourth down. Unlike the play before, Lampkin kept the pigskin, headed right, and scored untouched. Tristan Tankersley booted the PAT for a 7-0 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
The Devil Defense held the Panthers to four yards on three plays, forcing a punt. The Devils mishandled the punt with Clinch recovering at the LC 25.
The Devil Defense was again up to the task, stopping the Panthers from gaining a first down and taking over on downs at the LC 17. Colton Willis was the primary tackler on two of the plays, including fourth down when the Panthers were stopped two yards short of their line-to-gain.
Lampkin connected with Caleb Willis for nine yards. A personal foul added 15 to the LC 36. On 3rd-&-7, Lampkin scrambled and passed 19 yards to Franklin Brown. Colton Willis gained nine. Lampkin rushed for several yards when a Panther emerged from the scrum with the ball. A long discussion by the officials led to Clinch taking over on their 31 midway the second quarter.
Their star back broke through the line for 59 yards, but flags on both teams nullified most of the gain and left the ball at the CC 36. A 17-yard run and a nine-yard pass setup a 25-yard touchdown run with 2:11 remaining before the bands played. The extra point kick tied the game at 7-all.
Neither team threatened to score in the remaining time, leaving the halftime score knotted at 7.
A 20-yard kickoff return, a 22-yard pass, and a 15-yard penalty on the Devils led to a four-yard touchdown run by the Panthers with 7:32 left in the third. The extra point put the visitors up 14-7.
A slip on the kickoff return put the Devils in a hole at their 10 from which they did not escape. The 36-yard punt by Caleb Willis rolled dead at the LC 49. The Panthers' powerful ground attack ramped up, earning three first downs on a 12-play drive. Clinch scored on a 5-yard run on the second play of the final quarter. The kick failed, but the Panthers led 20-7.
These Devils showed once again there was no "give up" in them, and no panic by the coaching staff. On 3rd-&-7 at the LC 35, Lampkin connected with Brown for 53 yards to the CC 12. Offsides by the Panthers moved the Devils to the CC 7. A dead-ball personal foul cost the Devils 15, but a holding call on the Panthers gave the Devils another chance on 4th-&-6 at the CC 8. The pass attempt was just out of the endzone, ending the threat.
The Clinch running game was again too much, as the Panthers marched 92 yards on a dozen rushing plays. The five-yard touchdown run came with about a minute left. The kick put the Panthers up 27-7.
A 26-yard pass from Lampkin to Caleb Willis put the Devils at midfield. A twenty-yard run by Lampkin reached the CC 29. The game's final play was an interception by Clinch at its one.
The Devils had controlled much of the first half, but Clinch County controlled most of the final 24 minutes to secure the win. Clinch led in total yards 267-245, but the Devils had three turnovers and 90 yards in penalties.
The Devils likely would have been 8-5 had the game against Towns County been played. Of the five losses, four were against teams that made at least the second round of playoffs.
The seven wins this season means the Red Devils have won at least seven games in 46 of the past 48 years. This was the 46th winning season during that same stretch. The only exceptions were the 6-6 2001 season and the 4-6 2018 campaign.
Clinch County will visit Brooks County in the semifinals. Brooks beat Washington-Wilkes 47-7 last Friday, and Clinch County 45-3 a month ago. Irwin County edged Commerce 25-21 and Metter defeated Warren County 28-6 to setup the other semifinal. Clinch, Brooks, and Irwin are all from Region 2.